Over the last few years of studying obesity and chronic disease development/prevention, I’ve learned so many ways to lose/maintain a healthy weight. Many of these tools include portion control. By that, I mean limiting the size of the portions of foods that are calorically dense and high in fats and sugars (but not eliminating them as deprivation is the shortest route to binging). I also eat larger portions of nutrient dense foods like fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes, non/lowfat yogurt and cheese, etc. It may sound neurotic or obsessive, but I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t even think about it anymore – it’s just how I eat. Over the last 3.5 years of graduate school, I’ve incorporated all these habits into my life and slowly lost about 10 pounds.
When I started this experiment, I was at my lowest adult body weight, and I was happy with that weight. But I made the mistake of simply taking the way I was eating and swapping out animal products with more legumes, fruits, and vegetables. In doing so, I probably reduced my daily intake by at least 300-400 kcals, if not more.
The first few days, I wasn’t able to stay full for long. I found that I was eating a larger volume of food than I ever have. I was eating so many fruits, veggies, and beans, and I was essentially eating all day. I got on the scale on Thursday, and I had lost 3 pounds since I weighed myself two weeks prior (I may have lost some weight in those few days between weighing myself and starting veganism, but there’s no way of knowing). What I do know is that I freaked out because my intention is not to lose weight, and I realized my approach has been off. I talked to my friend Tracy, a registered dietitian, and she gave me some pointers on how to get in more calories. Some tips from the RD herself:
- Starch it up. Eat more pasta, rice (whole grains, of course), potatoes, sweet potatoes, beans, fruit juice, dried fruits, etc. I need to max out my glycogen stores so that I can start depositing fat.
Physiology lesson: glycogen is your body’s storage form of glucose. Glycogen is stored in the liver and muscles, and when your body needs energy, it will break down glycogen into glucose to use for energy. Your body can only store a finite amount of glycogen though, and when that volume is reached, it will start converting glucose into fat.
- Go nuts. I was eating more nut butters, but I got bored with that pretty quickly since I already eat them about once a day. I’ve started eating more dried fruit and nut mixes. I eat about a cup a day (normal serving size is ¼ cup), which gives me lots of calories from fat, protein, and carbohydrates, and also supplies healthy phytonutrients. This has helped me stay full way longer.
- A vegan milkshake a day helps keep the skinnies away. Tracy also recommended that I drink a shake at night to help me sock in calories. There are some soy ice creams out there. Some people like them — I think they taste like play-doh. I do like coconut “ice cream,” though, so I’ve been making a shake with chocolate coconut ice cream (I get mine from Trader Joe’s), some almond milk, peanut butter, and banana slices. It is awfully tasty.
Metabolism Lesson: Nutritional scientists used to think that eating late at night wouldn’t promote weight gain as long as calorie intake matched calorie output over the long term, and anything that said otherwise was a myth. There is now emerging evidence suggesting that activity of hormones and enzymes involved in metabolism and the deposition of fat changes with circadian rhythms. So, in fact, eating calorically dense foods late at night may cause your body to store said calories as fat. The verdict is still out as most of the published studies have only been in animal models, but there are studies currently being conducted in humans, so we’ll have to see what those results say. Given the information out there now, though, my recommendation would be to cool it on the Ben & Jerry’s late at night if you are trying to lose weight.
If it’s not obvious, I don’t incorporate EVERY one of Tracy’s tips every day, because that could lead to too much weight gain. I choose a few a day, and that helps to keep my diet varied and interesting. Hopefully I’ll get my intake figured out in the next few days. Of course, I could put on weight in really unhealthy ways by eating chips, fries, candy, and soda, but that’s not my approach to life. There are healthy ways to gain weight, much like there are (un)healthy ways to lose weight.
If you are trying to lose weight and get healthier, try small changes like making all of your snacks vegan. Eat fresh fruits, veggies and hummus, or ¼ cup serving of mixed nuts. Get creative with your options, and you’ll likely feel healthier for introducing so many nutrient-dense foods into your diet.
So far, being a vegan has been surprisingly fun. I only really miss animal products with regard to the flavor they provide. A couple of times I’ve cooked a meal and thought to myself, “A little bit of bacon/feta/parmesan would go really well with this.” I’m trying to use more unique spices and herbs to enhance the flavor profile of my foods so that animal products are just a distant memory. I’m also learning about cooking with new (to me) products like tempeh, nutritional yeast, and how to make “cream” sauces out of cashews. I’ll post some good recipes here soon, and you can give veganism a whirl as well!